United States District Court, D. Delaware
Saunders, James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, Smyrna,
Delaware, Pro Se Plaintiff.
NOREIKA, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
Robert Saunders (“Plaintiff), an inmate at the James T.
Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Delaware, filed this
action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (D.I. 1). He
appears pro se and has paid the filing fee. He has
also filed a motion to change venue, a request for counsel,
and a motion to expedite proceedings. (D.I. 5; D.I. 6; D.I.
8). The Court proceeds to review and screen the matter
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a).
November 1976, Plaintiff was tried for the murder of Joseph
L. Johnson. See Saunders v. Taylor, No. 95-259-SLR,
1997 WL 129347 (D. Del. Feb. 27, 1997). A Delaware Superior
Court jury found Saunders guilty on the murder and related
charges and sentenced him as a habitual offender to six
concurrent life terms, without the possibility of parole or
probation. Id. at *2. The Delaware Supreme Court
affirmed his convictions and sentences on direct appeal.
Id. at *1. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed several
motions for postconviction relief pursuant to Delaware
Superior Court Criminal Rule 61 (“Rule 61
motions”). Id. at *2. The Superior Court
denied the Rule 61 motions, and those decisions were affirmed
on post-conviction appeal. Id. Next, Plaintiff filed
two petitions for a writ of mandamus, and they were denied.
has also filed five petitions for habeas corpus relief in the
federal district court. See Saunders v. Markell, No.
11-1078-GMS, 2013 WL 663407, at *1 (D. Del. Feb. 21, 2013).
The first petition was denied on the merits, the following
three petitions were denied as second or successive, and the
last petition was summarily denied. Saunders, 1997
WL 129347, at *2. The fifth petition that sought habeas
relief alleged that Delaware's governor had denied
Plaintiff's commutation request despite a unanimous
recommendation for a commutation of sentence from the
Delaware Department of Correction, the Board of Parole, and
the Board of Pardons in retaliation for Plaintiff exposing
health care and monetary problems within the Delaware
Department of Correction, and that the denial violated
Plaintiff's rights to due process and equal protection.
Complaint names as Defendants the president and members of
the Board of Pardons. Between 2011 and 2014, Plaintiff
appeared before the Board of Pardons on two occasions and
both times received unanimous recommendations for
commutation. (D.I. 1 ¶ 11). He alleges that there have
been no negative events since those hearings, other than his
continued incarceration. (Id.). Plaintiff sought
commutation in 2018 and alleges that he was not allowed to
physically appear at the 2018 Board of Pardons hearing.
(Id. ¶ 12). While not specifically stated, the
alleged facts indicate that the Board of Pardons denied the
2018 commutation request. Plaintiff's daughter obtained
the “denial consideration information” from the
Board of Pardons, and Plaintiff alleges the information was
alleges that he was previously informed that commutation
consideration was “based on factual information
extracted from Department of Correction, investigative
reports of offense(s), prison programming and work history,
academic trade training, prison adjustment, psychiatric
reports, and risk assessment based on prognosis for success
or failure if released” but, none of this was
considered in his case. (Id. ¶ 18). Plaintiff
alleges that Defendants completely ignore his many medical
problems. (Id. ¶ 19). Plaintiff alleges that
despite the fact that he provided substantial evidence
supporting commutation, Defendants “denied Plaintiff or
those desiring [to] speak [on] his behalf [the] opportunity
[to] do [the] same.” (Id. ¶ 21).
Complaint alleges that Defendants are members of a Board that
is dysfunctional and secretive and uses “make-up as
you-go policies and procedures that are neither principled
nor consistent.” (Id. ¶ 15). The
Complaint alleges that the Board of Pardons has rules that
Plaintiff has requested for the purpose of determining how
many are used, but he has been unable to secure this
information. (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that
Delaware's governor has never adopted criteria for the
commutation of a sentence even though the Delaware
Constitution provides that the ultimate decision rests with
the governor. (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that he, and
other black inmates, have no idea how to determine what
criteria are used when commutation recommendations are made
and that some decisions are irrational and are based on
subjective and unknown criteria. (Id. ¶ 16).
The Complaint alleges that the procedures incorporated in the
hearing process are arbitrary, capricious and whimsical.
(Id. ¶ 21).
Complaint “challenges the Board of Pardons regular
discriminatory practices in hearing cases for commutation and
the utilization of racial overtones in deciding blacks
serving life without parole sentences.” (Id.
¶ 10). The Complaint alleges that the Board of Pardons
justified commutation for Robert Martin
(“Martin”), a white inmate, based upon a series
of omitted information. (Id. ¶ 13). The
Complaint alleges that the Board of Pardons uses a
double-standard for whites and blacks in the commutation
process going back to the 1985 case of John Bailey
(“Bailey”) and the 1990 case of John Judge
(“Judge”) and Jon Berger
(“Berger”). (Id. ¶ 14). Plaintiff
alleges that blacks without previous records of any nature
are denied commutation, while whites with far worse criminal
and institutional records are granted commutation and, in one
case, it was approved by the governor. (Id.).
Plaintiff alleges that the Delaware commutation process
“is infested with racism, politics and personal
values.” (Id. ¶ 17). Finally, the
Complaint alleges that the Board of Pardons “has in
place a system that overly, systematically discriminates
against blacks serving life without parole sentences.”
seeks declaratory and injunctive relief (including the
adoption of administrative procedures in the commutation process
and an immediate rehearing) as well as actual, consequential,
and punitive damages.
federal court may properly dismiss an action sua
sponte under the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915A(b) if “the action is frivolous or
malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is
immune from such relief.” Ball v. Famiglio,
726 F.3d 448, 452 (3d Cir. 2013); see 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915A (actions in which prisoner seeks redress from a
governmental defendant). The Court must accept all factual
allegations in a complaint as true and take them in the light
most favorable to a pro se plaintiff. See
Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 229 (3d
Cir. 2008); Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93
(2007). Because Plaintiff proceeds pro se, his
pleading is liberally ...